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Over a fifth of diabetes patients experience avoidable complications in hospital


More than 1 in 5 (22.0 per cent) patients with diabetes in hospital will experience largely avoidable low blood glucose levels, according to a new report published today.

The findings, which have been published in the National Diabetes Inpatient Audit carried out in collaboration with Diabetes UK, also show that one in ten diabetes inpatients (9.3 per cent) will experience severe low blood glucose levels.

More worryingly one in 50 (2.2 per cent) hospital patients with diabetes have their blood glucose falls so low that it becomes a medical emergency, which can lead to life-changing disability or death if left untreated.

The report also finds that one in six people in a hospital bed has diabetes and that the percentage of hospital beds occupied by people with diabetes has risen each year.

Key findings

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Over a third of inpatients (37.5 per cent) who should have been referred to a hospital diabetes team did not see a diabetes specialist
  • Almost one third (31.7 per cent) of sites in the audit had no diabetes inpatient specialist nurses
  • Almost three quarters (71.2 per cent) of sites had no specialist inpatient diabetes staff time for people with diabetes.

Commissioning groups and trusts need to take action

Diabetes UK is calling for commissioning groups and the trusts that run hospitals to act on the report’s findings. The charity says sufficient numbers of diabetes specialist nurses in every hospital and better diabetes training for clinical staff working in hospitals are essential if improvements to diabetes hospital care are to be made.

Barbara Young, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, said: “If you are in hospital then you have a right to expect safe care and, for people with diabetes, this includes regular monitoring of blood glucose levels and making sure they get food and insulin at the right times. If this is done properly, then the risk of patients’ blood glucose levels falling too low are greatly reduced.

“This is why it is greatly concerning that one in five patients experience low blood glucose during their stay. But what is really shocking is that one in 50 inpatients with diabetes have their blood glucose falls so low that it becomes a medical emergency, which in some rare cases can lead to life-changing disability or death. When you consider that almost one in six hospital inpatients has diabetes, this means that preventable cases of blood glucose falling too low are happening in frightening numbers.

“While many hospitals have done great work over the last couple of years in establishing diabetes specialist teams, protocols and education, this audit highlights that there is much more to be done. It shows that low blood glucose levels are just one of a number of things that go wrong in hospital healthcare. For example, a third of inpatients with diabetes experience a medication error during their stay, while about one in 50 are not given enough insulin and so become life-threateningly ill.

“People with diabetes have died because hospitals did not look after them"

“These are not just faceless statistics. Over the last few years we have seen too many tragic cases of people with diabetes who have died because hospitals did not look after them properly and this will continue to happen until we see real changes to the way hospitals care for people with diabetes.

"Firstly, we need to see sufficient diabetes inpatient specialist nurses in every hospital, as there is strong evidence they improve people’s health and, by reducing length of stay, also save the NHS money. We also need systems in place to make sure all clinical staff in hospitals have a basic understanding of how to look after people with diabetes and, where appropriate, let patients manage their own condition in the same way they do at home.

“But this kind of improvement will not happen by itself. We need to start giving the issue of safe hospital care for people with diabetes a much higher priority, or we will see more patients being harmed unnecessarily and the cost of diabetes increase accordingly. We are calling for clinical commissioning groups and the trusts that run hospitals to act urgently on this as this is the only way we will see this grave lack of patient safety brought to an end.”


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